Capgemini's James Robey on how AI can power climate strategy

18 January 2021 4 min. read

As firms across all industries look to ramp up their sustainability efforts, artificial intelligence is one potentially overlooked way to drive an organisation’s climate change strategy. According to Capgemini’s Global Head of Corporate Sustainability, James Robey, AI powered responses could help firms both reduce their carbon footprints, and boost productivity and profitability.

The risk of climate change to organisations — and the planet — is increasingly ‘real’. According to the World Bank, $158 trillion of physical assets — double the total annual output of the global economy – are at risk without preventative action to mitigate climate change. Meanwhile, a recent study from Capgemini Research Institute also showed that sustainability is fundamentally changing consumer preferences. It found that 75% of millennials expect employers to take a stand on social and climate issues, while 79% of consumers are changing their purchase preferences based on sustainability.

Without rapid action, then, climate change presents a major risk to the bottom lines of many businesses. However, it also has the potential to yield major opportunities. There are many drivers for improved sustainability efforts at a company, from attracting investment and new employees to reputational enhancement. According to a mounting pile of evidence, harnessing AI across the world’s keystone industries to support better management of the environment could yield productivity benefits, higher GDP, and millions of new jobs, as well as reduced carbon emissions by 2030.

James Robey, Capgemini

Speaking on the use of innovation to address both the ecological and economic challenges of climate change, James Robey told Information Age, “Technology is changing our world, and with it bringing new challenges and opportunities for sustainability… According to the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, GeSI, for example, technology has the potential to cut 9.7 times as many carbon emissions as it emits… The most significant development for sustainability is the increasing ability to generate, capture, transmit as well as learn from data. The implications for what we can do with this data are huge and will be a critical feature for the sustainability agenda.”

According to Capgemini’s Global Head of Corporate Sustainability, advanced analytics can provide organisations with much greater insights into their efficiency, and adapt their behaviour accordingly to reduce waste. For example, the reams of intelligence generated from customer experience could be used to improve the manufacturing process, ensuring that production only supplies what is needed by consumers.

“Our most recent report ‘Climate AI: How artificial intelligence can power your climate action strategy’ considers the potential that AI offers for accelerating climate action and the benefits that have been achieved so far,” added Robey. “48% of organisations across the automotive, industrial/process manufacturing, energy and utilities, consumer products, and retail industries are currently using AI to tackle climate change, and already helping reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 12.9% – with expectations that AI could help reduce GHG emissions by 16% over the next 3-5 years.”

Beyond this exciting development, Capgemini’s modelling exercise went on to estimate that by 2030, AI-enabled use cases could potentially help some organisations fulfil up to 45% of their Economic Emission Intensity (EEI) targets of the Paris Agreement. Unfortunately, the firms with this potential – which Capgemini labelled ‘climate AI champions’ – only represent 13% of the entire survey sample, however, Robey believes that others can learn from their best practices, and how they integrate AI to better impact their sustainability initiatives.

Robey concluded, “One of the things they seem to be doing differently is being able to drive their climate action and AI action by building dedicated leadership and technical teams to drive implementation. We found that 47% of champions have a dedicated leader for each climate goal and action compare to 36% of others, and 53% have a dedicated team for implementing tech solutions compared to 42% of others.”

Earlier in the year, Capgemini announced intentions of reaching carbon neutrality over the next five years, while also setting its net zero deadline at 2030. This will be achieved by changing work structures to minimise travel, developing an electric vehicle fleet, and collaborating with suppliers to reduce supply chain emissions, in addition to shifting to 100% renewable electricity.